I Want Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere*

Many young people choose to travel before they settle down to jobs and adult responsibilities. Some do a gap year before university. Others travel after they finish university. Still others travel instead of going to university. Either way, that year or so of travel can add a real richness to one’s life, and some memorable experiences.

Of course, that sort of travel can lead to all sorts of unforeseen circumstance. Just a quick look at crime fiction is all it takes to show that gap years and other travel experiences can have very unexpected outcomes.

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory, Dickory Dock, we are introduced to Sally Finch. She is from the US, but she’s studying in London under a Fulbright Scholarship, and is living in a hostel for students. All goes well until one of a pair of her evening shoes goes missing. At first, it seems like a mean, but not dangerous, prank. Then, other things go missing. Now, Sally’s worried about what’s going on in the hostel. The manager, Mrs. Hubbard, invites Hercule Poirot to do a little discreet investigation, and he agrees. On the night of his visit, another resident, Celia Austin, confesses to taking some of the things (including Sally’s shoe), and everyone thinks the matter is settled. The next night, though, Celia dies. It’s soon proven that she was murdered, and now Sally’s mixed up in it all. It’s certainly not the experience she’d planned when she came to London.

John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook features an American named Tad Rampole. He’s recently finished his university studies and has decided to travel a bit before he settles into adult life. His university mentor suggested that, since he’s planning to be in England, he should pay a visit to Dr. Gideon Fell. Rampole takes that advice and makes the arrangements. On his way to Fell’s home, he meets a young woman named Dorothy Starberth. He’s smitten right away, and the feeling is mutual. Later, Fell tells Rampole a strange story about the Starberths, It seems that, for two generations, the Starberth men were Governors at a nearby prison, which has now fallen into disuse. There’s still a family ritual associated with the prison, and it’s now the turn of Dorothy’s brother Martin, to participate. He’s concerned, because several of the Starberth men have died violent deaths. Tragically, Martin dies, too. Mostly because of his feelings for Dorothy, Rampole works with Fell to find out the truth about the murder.

Cath Staincliffe’s Half the World Away is the story of Lori Maddox, who decides to do a gap year backpacking in South East Asia. Her mother, Jo, and stepfather, Nick, support her choices, although, of course, they’re concerned, as any parents would be. Lori begins her trip and keeps in regular contact at first. She blogs about her adventures, she sends emails, and so on. Then, the contact starts to become a little more erratic. At first, there’s no reason to really worry. The gap year can be the adventure of a lifetime, so it’s natural for young people to get distracted. Then, Lori stops communicating at all. Now, Jo is really worried. She turns for support to Lori’s father, Tom, and together, the two decide they need to go and find their daughter. Lori was last known to be in Chengdu, China, where she was teaching English, so that’s where Tom and Jo travel. When they get there, they get very little help from the local authorities. Even their consul can’t be of much assistance, because it’s in the interest of the local police to preserve the area’s reputation. So, Jo and Tom will have to find out the truth on their own.

In Charity Norman’s See You in September, Cassy Howells and her boyfriend, Hamish, are planning a trip to New Zealand as a break between their university studies and taking up adult life. They’re planning to volunteer for a few weeks, and then explore the country. Cassy’s parents, Diana and Mike, are excited for her, but, of course, concerned, as you’d expect. Things go well at first. But Cassy and Hamish start arguing, as couples do. That adds tension to their relationship. Then, Cassy discovers to her shock that she’s pregnant. When Hamish makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be a father, the two break up, and Cassy’s left alone and vulnerable. She’s rescued by a group of people who live on an eco-commune. They invite her stay with them for a few days so that she can decide what to do next. Cassy gratefully accepts and joins the group. Little by little, she feels comfortable with them, and in the end, she decides to stay with them. Soon enough, it’s clear that she’s joined a cult which is led by a charismatic man named Justin. Meanwhile, her parents, particularly Diana, are quite worried about her. She’s cut off contact, and in other ways is no longer the Cassy they thought they knew. So, they decide to go and get her. By this time, though, Cassy is fully integrated into the cult; she even has a new name, Cairo. In the meantime, Justin has revealed that the Last Day is coming, and that could spell disaster for the group. Now, the question is: can Diana and Mike get Cassy/Cairo to leave before tragedy strikes?

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s A Darkness of the Heart, which features her sleuth, retired academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. In one plot thread of this novel, her daughter, Taylor, has just finished secondary school, and decides to take a gap year. Her reasoning makes sense, but that doesn’t mean Joanne doesn’t have any concerns. I admit I’ve not (yet) read this book; I’m a book or two behind in the series. But if you want to read more about it, visit Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, who did an excellent review.

Gap years and other travel can be exciting and fulfilling adventures for young people. They can also be quite dangerous, and you never quite know what will happen. Little wonder this plot point comes up in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Menken’s Belle (Reprise).


Filed under Agatha Christie, Cath Staincliffe, Charity Norman, Gail Bowen, John Dickson Carr

14 responses to “I Want Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere*

  1. There was a great Irish thriller out last year called Red Dirt that followed a group of students as they backpack in Australia. That mix of naivety and unfamiliar surroundings can make for high drama.

    • Oh, that sounds great, Cathy. I think I heard about it, but I haven’t read it. I appreciate the nudge. And yes, naivety and unfamiliar surrounds can be a potent and effective mix.

  2. A.M. Pietroschek

    Inspired by your wonderful article I found a weird piece, and decided that the ‘feminism’ aspect might justify it:

    “Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson

    This one was published in 1936, but you wouldn’t know from its prescience. It’s an account of a Scottish couple fleeing the city for a wild home in the hills ahead of the imminent threats of perpetual war, disease, and disaster. But what makes it stand out from other stories of escaping modernity “back to nature” is how unavoidably the outside world presses in, and how earnestly Wild Harbour takes on harder questions seldom asked in similar stories about the ethics and impossibilities of hiding out in the back of beyond while the world burns.”

  3. Margot: From the personal experiences of our sons who went on year long Rotary exchanges to Europe after high school I think of these years as maturing experiences. They grew up a lot during their year away.

    Taylor is also swiftly becoming an adult in her gap year. There is a surprise awaiting readers with regard to Taylor as they near the end of A Darkness of the Heart.

    Thanks for the kind words. I am so glad to have you as a friend.

    • I’m glad, too, Bill. And I really do want to read A Darkness… very soon.. Thanks for sharing your sons’ experiences. I do think that travel can help young people mature in some important ways. I’m glad that’s what happened in your sons’ cases. I’ll bet they’ll never forget those experiences.

  4. kathy d.

    Aaaauugh! More books for the TBR. Staincliffe’s and Norman’s sound good, and so does Red Dirt. Well, heck, all of them.
    I’m too chicken to go traveling far like that. Had enough trouble hitch-hiking once in New Hampshire which taught me never to do that again.
    But I am glad others do it. I worry though as I hear awful stories from women friends who have traveled solo or with a friend. Men seem to be safer.

    • I know what you mean about the TBR, Kathy. There is never enough time to read everything, is there? There’s just something irresistible about the allure of books, isn’t there? And as for hitchhiking, I’ve never really been one to do that.

  5. A year of travel can be a wonderful (and extremely dangerous) time. I think sometimes I’ve read too many mysteries because I quickly begin to think of all the bad things that can happen when I start on an adventure. Then have to remind myself of the good things that can also happen.

    • That’s the thing about reading crime fiction, isn’t it, Mason? People who read crime fiction know all too well how badly an adventure can end. But, as you say, those adventures can be wonderful experiences, too. And they do teach us a lot.

  6. Col

    Margot, no examples from my own reading and no familiarity with any of the books or authors mentioned. Nice to find out a bit more about one of Cath Staincliffe’s works though.

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